Sink den Bismarck!
[Madge becomes the time-traveler’s assistant]
Written by Madge on January 11, 1990
[I wrote this in high school and am well aware of its problems. I’m working on a complete rewrite. But I am still fond of this version. 🙂 ]
Who says time travel isn’t possible? It has to be, or else I dreamed this whole thing, and I know I didn’t do that, since there’s proof it really happened. My friends’ testimonies, for instance.
There’s also this great memory of mine that tells me there’s no possibility of it being just a dream. I tell you, this was no dream.
I’ve got to get this all down on paper while it’s still fresh in my mind. It began just a few months ago, during the last days before fall 1989. After the nice, hot summer it was a little too cool for my taste. I was a junior in high school in South Bend, Indiana.
Our cat’s not an outside cat, but she thinks she is. I let her outside while I took out the trash, then found her on the lawn on the side of our corner house. As I reached down to pick her up, a man appeared in front of me–in a flash, out of nowhere, just like a genie popping before me. I straightened up and stared.
He was close to my dad’s height, which is six feet tall. He had white hair, almost all there, but few wrinkles. He wore small, round, wire-rimmed glasses and a white smock.
“Who’re you?” I said.
“Wilhelm von Bismarck, German inventor,” he said with a thick German accent. Since I was in my third year of German, I hoped he would speak some.
“How’d you appear in front of me like that?”
“I traveled in time from the day of my fifty-first birthday–in December of 1941–to today. This is my first experiment in time travel, but surely we have made great advancements in that technology by now which I can learn about.”
“No, we haven’t.” I smiled. “You’re putting me on. You know as well as I do that no one knows how to time-travel yet.”
“What?” His face scrunched up in confusion. “What is today’s date?”
“September 14th, 1989.”
“Good. That part works, at least. What country is this?”
I laughed. “America, of course. How’d you do that trick, really?”
“Just how I said. See this card?”
He showed me a metal card in his hand. On it were many dials and a button about the size of his fingertip.
“I programmed in the date and coordinates I came from with these dials–” he pointed to the ones on the side labeled von— “and today’s date with these dials–” he pointed to the ones on the side labeled zu.
He pointed to a large red button. “Then I pushed this button and was transported here. I programmed it to go to Germany, but obviously it has a fault.”
“Give me your hand.”
I did this, holding my cat with the other hand, and he pushed the button. What could be the harm in it?
With a flash of light, our surroundings changed to a street lined with half-timbered houses and German signs.
My cat squirmed. The people on the street wore forties clothes and hair styles and spoke in German. I let go of Mr. Bismarck’s hand and went up to a wall to touch it to see if it was real. I returned to Mr. Bismarck and took his hand.
“All right, I’m convinced,” I said. “You can take me back to my house now, Herr Bismarck.”
He took me back. My cat looked confused, and squirmed to be let down.
“Is Hitler still alive, or has he been replaced?” said Mr. Bismarck.
“Who is your country’s leader?”
“President George Bush.”
“An elected president?”
“This is allowed?”
I snorted. “What in the world are you talking about?”
“On what day did the Allies surrender?”
He frowned. “So who won the war?”
“We did, of course.”
“You mean–Germany lost the war!”
He sounded like a Nazi sympathizer, but it was wrong to judge without knowing the facts.
I said, “Of course. Hitler’s dead. He didn’t get rid of all the Jews, and I even know several. I guess I won’t tell you everything, so you can see for yourself what happens when you go back to your own time. Enjoy your defeat.”
Mr. Bismarck stood speechless for a moment. Then he glanced at my clothes and said, “This is what women wear in 1989?”
“Well, what teen-age girls wear,” I said.
“At least I see a girl’s hair is still worn the same.”
My long brown hair was in two braids wound around the top of my head. “Oh, no, this is just how I wear it sometimes.”
“And what is that on your pocket, a radio transmitter?”
“No, it’s a Walkman: a radio and tape player. It plays music just for me.”
“I don’t know what all this means, but I am anxious to learn. What’s your name?”
“Would you like to be my assistant, Madge? I’d like to stay in this time period for a while, find out what it’s like to live here, find materials I wouldn’t be able to get in my time. I need an assistant for my time travel experiments. I will pay you.”
My face lit up. I’d always wanted to travel in time, and I had no proof that he sided with Germany. “Sure. But the card already works, doesn’t it?”
“Not all the time. As I said before, I set it for Germany, not America. I need to improve it.”
For several months I assisted Mr. Bismarck. He spoke little about Nazi Germany, only hinting here and there about escaping Hitler’s hypnotic mind-games.
He traded in some coins and rented a house with the money. The coins were part of a collection he started after 1910 for just such a situation.
Whenever I had nothing better to do–and even when I did–and he didn’t need my help in an experiment, I had domestic chores:
I mowed the lawn or cleaned house with all my parents’ “modern contrivances,” such as the power lawn mower. I could have taught him how to use them, but he believed women should do all the housework. I grumbled.
He often kept me up into the wee hours of school mornings helping him with experiments.
My lack of sleep, loss of concentration, and hours of work cleaning his house caused my grades to suffer.
My teachers talked with me or sent letters home. My parents, of course, were not happy.
I tried to get Mr. Bismarck to lighten up his demands on my time, but I figured that even refusing to work would do no good.
But then one day as I put away Mr. Bismarck’s vacuum cleaner, working up the nerve to quit, he said to me, “Do you know any Jews?”
“Yeah, several,” I said, a little wary.
“I’d like to have them over for tea or dinner. I want to make up to them for what Hitler did to their people–promote healing for the past.”
Relieved, I extended Mr. Bismarck’s invitation, for 5:00 a few days later. Most could come.
As I dusted the coffee table just before the guests were to arrive, I found my guest list lying on it and, only thinking of neatness, put it in my pocket.
Mr. Bismarck hadn’t told me to make food or even tea for the visit, yet I saw him do nothing for it. In the back of my mind burned a suspicion.
I finished my dusting and found Mr. Bismarck sitting at the desk in the research room. I said, “Herr, am I supposed to make any tea or anything for the visit?”
“Don’t fret yourself. I’ll take care of the refreshments.”
“Then shouldn’t you get them ready now? It’s almost five.”
“It is ready.”
“It is?” Wait a minute–it? My eyes wandered to the desktop as I turned to leave.
There lay a box of bullets.
“Um, Herr, what is that?”
“What is what?”
“Have you decided to take up hunting or protect the house from burglars?”
He stared at me without blinking. “Are you loyal enough to me to do anything I say?”
“Well, yeah, I guess so,” I said. I had no courage to defy him, no matter how much I grumbled.
“Good. I have something for you to do. I will show our guests into the basement. Then you will close the door and blindfold them as I bind their wrists. Line them up, then we will all play a little game. A nice, simple, fun game.”
Fun for whom? My voice quivering with terror, I said,
“You’re going to shoot them, aren’t you? You’ve just been putting up a front, haven’t you? You said you hated Hitler, but you’re really a Nazi after all, and you want to carry Hitler’s reign of terror into this time frame since he lost. I should’ve known, since you’re a taskmaster like the Germans in the prison camps!”
Mr. Bismarck, unruffled, just gazed silently at me.
“I won’t be your assistant anymore, and especially not in this. I’ll take your time card away and report you to the police and–”
He sprang up and snatched my arm. With his free hand he opened a desk drawer and pulled out a revolver.
“You little Ally,” he hissed, twisting my arm. “This gun is loaded, so don’t think I’m bluffing. You are going in the basement. Now move.” He pointed the gun at me and I moved.
Soon after he locked me in the basement, I heard him let in the guests. I began to form a plan.
I crept down the stairs and hid in the darkest shadows in the basement, under the staircase. I prayed and prayed that God would help me carry out my plan.
The door opened. The guests trudged down the stairs, followed by Mr. Bismarck. He called for me. I didn’t answer, so he furrowed his brow.
He made the guests tie each other’s wrists, except for the last one. He cradled the gun in his arm and swiftly tied her up. He made them all line up along the wall opposite me, and stood facing them.
“Now, which side should I start on?” he said, slowly moving his arm until the gun pointed at the freshman girl at the right end of the line. She gasped. “This side?”
I shifted into a crawling position. Mr. Bismarck moved his arm just as slowly until the gun pointed at the junior boy at the left end of the line. “Or this side?”
I crept up behind him and stood up.
“I think the right side will do,” he said. “I wish I had a machine gun. It would be so much better: I could just sweep the bullets along the line and this world would be rid of your pollution in a second.”
The junior boy caught my eye and gave me a hard look. I mouthed the words, “Distract him.” He said in a pleading voice,
“Mr. Bismarck, whatever you do, please don’t start with me. I don’t want to die first. I wouldn’t have any chance to escape–Whoops, I shouldn’t have said that.”
Mr. Bismarck pointed the gun at him. “Is that so? You’re first, then.”
I grabbed Bismarck’s wrist. With a strength I didn’t know I had, I squeezed until he dropped the gun.
I let go of him and snatched up the gun before he could. I pointed it at him and stood up. He reluctantly put up his hands.
“Do you have your time card with you?” I said.
“Yes,” he said.
“Then get back to your own time or I’ll shoot you.”
“Will you really?”
“Yes. If I could get up enough courage to take your gun away, I can get up enough to shoot you. Now get back to where you belong.”
Wait–If he had the card he’d be free to travel anywhere in time.
“I’ve got a better idea: Give me the card.”
“I’ll get back at you for this,” he said, taking the card out of his pocket. “Don’t worry, you little Ally, I’ll find a way. It’ll give me more pleasure than killing Jews, so I might give that up and just concentrate on you.”
“You can’t if I’ve got the card.”
As I put out my hand to take it, Mr. Bismarck punched the button and popped out to safety.
I sadly turned to the guests, rubbing my sore arm.
“I guess you guys are safe now,” I said, “but I’m not. Anyone have a lighter or a knife?”
I cut the ropes from the guests’ wrists with a knife I found upstairs. I took the list of names from my pocket, and burned it.